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The White People 

by Arthur Machen 



"SORCERY and sanctity," said Ambrose, "these are the only realities. Each 
is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life." 

Cotgrave listened, interested. He had been brought by a friend to this 
mouldering house in a northern suburb, through an old garden to the room 
where Ambrose the recluse dozed and dreamed over his books. 

"Yes," he went on, "magic is justified of her children. I There are many, I 
think, who eat dry crusts and drink water, with a joy infinitely sharper than 
anything within the experience of the 'practical' epicure." 

"You are speaking of the saints?" 

"Yes, and of the sinners, too. I think you are falling into the very general 
error of confining the spiritual world to the supremely good; but the 
supremely wicked, necessarily, have their portion in it. The merely carnal, 
sensual man can no more be a great sinner than he can be a great saint. 
Most of us are just indifferent, mixed-up creatures; we muddle through the 
world without realizing the meaning and the inner sense of things, and, 
consequently, our wickedness and our goodness are alike second-rate, 

"And you think the great sinner, then, will be an ascetic, as well as the great 

"Great people of all kinds forsake the imperfect copies and go to the perfect 
originals. I have no doubt but that many of the very highest among the 
saints have never done a 'good action' (using the words in their ordinary 
sense). And, on the other hand, there have been those who have sounded 
the very depths of sin, who all their lives have never done an 'ill deed.'" 

He went out of the room for a moment, and Cotgrave, in high delight, 
turned to his friend and thanked him for the introduction. 

"He's grand," he said. "I never saw that kind of lunatic before." 

Ambrose returned with more whisky and helped the two men in a liberal 
manner. He abused the teetotal sect with ferocity, as he handed the seltzer, 
and pouring out a glass of water for himself, was about to resume his 
monologue, when Cotgrave broke in— 

"I can't stand it, you know," he said, "your paradoxes are too monstrous. A 
man may be a great sinner and yet never do anything sinful! Come!" 

"You're quite wrong," said Ambrose. "I never make paradoxes; I wish I 
could. I merely said that a man may have an exquisite taste in RomanZe 
Conti, and yet never have even smelt four ale. That's all, and it's more like a 

truism than a paradox, isn't it? Your surprise at my remark is due to the fact 
that you haven't realized what sin is. Oh, yes, there is a sort of connexion 
between Sin with the capital letter, and actions which are commonly called 
sinful: with murder, theft, adultery, and so forth. Much the same connexion 
that there is between the A, B, C and fine literature. But I believe that the 
misconception— it is all but universal— arises in great measure from our 
looking at the matter through social spectacles. We think that a man who 
does evil to us and to his neighbours must be very evil. So he is, from a 
social standpoint; but can't you realize that Evil in its essence is a lonely 
thing, a passion of the solitary, individual soul? Really, the average 
murderer, qu%o murderer, is not by any means a sinner in the true sense of 
the word. He is simply a wild beast that we have to get rid of to save our 
own necks from his knife. I should class him rather with tigers than with 

"It seems a little strange." 

"I think not. The murderer murders not from positive qualities, but from 
negative ones; he lacks something which non-murderers possess. Evil, of 
course, is wholly positive— only it is on the wrong side. You may believe 
me that sin in its proper sense is very rare; it is probable that there have 
been far fewer sinners than saints. Yes, your standpoint is all very well for 
practical, social purposes; we are naturally inclined to think that a person 
who is very disagreeable to us must be a very great sinner! It is very 
disagreeable to have one's pocket picked, and we pronounce the thief to be 
a very great sinner. In truth, he is merely an undeveloped man. He cannot 
be a saint, of course; but he may be, and often is, an infinitely better 
creature than thousands who have never broken a single commandment. He 
is a great nuisance to us, I admit, and we very properly lock him up if we 
catch him; but between his troublesome and unsocial action and evil— Oh, 
the connexion is of the weakest." 

It was getting very late. The man who had brought Cotgrave had probably 
heard all this before, since he assisted with a bland and judicious smile, but 
Cotgrave began to think that his "lunatic" was turning into a sage. 

"Do you know," he said, "you interest me immensely? You think, then, that 
we do not understand the real nature of evil?" 

"No, I don't think we do. We over-estimate it and we under-estimate it. We 
take the very numerous infractions of our social 'bye-laws'— the very 
necessary and very proper regulations which keep the human company 
together- and we get frightened at the prevalence of 'sin' and 'evil.' But this 
is really nonsense. Take theft, for example. Have you any horror at the 
thought of Robin Hood, of the Highland caterans of the seventeenth 
century, of the moss-troopers, of the company promoters of our day? 

"Then, on the other hand, we underrate evil. We attach such an enormous 
importance to the 'sin' of meddling with our pockets (and our wives) that 
we have quite forgotten the awfulness of real sin." 

"And what is sin?" said Cotgrave. 

"I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings 
be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute 
with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am 
sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go 
mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before 
your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony 
blossoms in the morning? 

"Well, these examples may give you some notion of what sin really is." 

"Look here," said the third man, hitherto placid, "you two seem pretty well 
wound up. But I'm going home. I've missed my tram, and I shall have to 

Ambrose and Cotgrave seemed to settle down more profoundly when the 
other had gone out into the early misty morning and the pale light of the 

"You astonish me," said Cotgrave. "I had never thought of that. If that is 
really so, one must turn everything upside down. Then the essence of sin 
really is — " 

"In the taking of heaven by storm, it seems to me," said Ambrose. "It 
appears to me that it is simply an attempt to penetrate into another and 
higher sphere in a forbidden manner. You can understand why it is so rare. 
There are few, indeed, who wish to penetrate into other spheres, higher or 
lower, in ways allowed or forbidden. Men, in the mass, are amply content 
with life as they find it. Therefore there are few saints, and sinners (in the 
proper sense) are fewer still, and men of genius, who partake sometimes of 
each character, are rare also. Yes; on the whole, it is, perhaps, harder to be a 
great sinner than a great saint." 

"There is something profoundly unnatural about Sin? Is that what you 

"Exactly. Holiness requires as great, or almost as great, an effort; but 
holiness works on lines that were natural once; it is an effort to recover the 
ecstasy that was before the Fall. But sin is an effort to gain the ecstasy and 
the knowledge that pertain alone to angels and in making this effort man 
becomes a demon. I told you that the mere murderer is not therefore a 
sinner; that is true, but the sinner is sometimes a murderer. Gilles de Raiz is 
an instance. So you see that while the good and the evil are unnatural to 
man as he now is-to man the social, civilized being-evil is unnatural in a 
much deeper sense than good. The saint endeavours to recover a gift which 
he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something which was never his. In 
brief, he repeats the Fall." 

"But are you a Catholic?" said Cotgrave. 

"Yes; I am a member of the persecuted Anglican Church." 

"Then, how about those texts which seem to reckon as sin that which you 
would set down as a mere trivial dereliction?" 

"Yes; but in one place the word 'sorcerers' comes in the same sentence, 
doesn't it? That seems to me to give the key-note. Consider: can you 
imagine for a moment that a false statement which saves an innocent man's 
life is a sin? No; very good, then, it is not the mere liar who is excluded by 
those words; it is, above all, the 'sorcerers' who use the material life, who 
use the failings incidental to material life as instruments to obtain their 
infinitely wicked ends. And let me tell you this: our higher senses are so 
blunted, we are so drenched with materialism, that we should probably fail 
to recognize real wickedness if we encountered it." 

"But shouldn't we experience a certain horror— a terror such as you hinted 
we would experience if a rose tree sang— in the mere presence of an evil 

"We should if we were natural: children and women feel this horror you 
speak of, even animals experience it. But with most of us convention and 
civilization and education have blinded and deafened and obscured the 
natural reason. No, sometimes we may recognize evil by its hatred of the 
good-one doesn't need much penetration to guess at the influence which 
dictated, quite unconsciously, the 'Blackwood' review of Keats-but this is 
purely incidental; and, as a rule, I suspect that the Hierarchs of Tophet pass 
quite unnoticed, or, perhaps, in certain cases, as good but mistaken men." 

"But you used the word 'unconscious' just now, of Keats' reviewers. Is 
wickedness ever unconscious?" 

"Always. It must be so. It is like holiness and genius in this as in other 
points; it is a certain rapture or ecstasy of the soul; a transcendent effort to 
surpass the ordinary bounds. So, surpassing these, it surpasses also the 
understanding, the faculty that takes note of that which comes before it. No, 
a man may be infinitely and horribly wicked and never suspect it But I tell 
you, evil in this, its certain and true sense, is rare, and I think it is growing 

"I am trying to get hold of it all," said Cotgrave. From what you say, I 
gather that the true evil differs genetically from that which we call evil?" 

"Quite so. There is, no doubt, an analogy between the two; a resemblance 
such as enables us to use, quite legitimately, such terms as the 'foot of the 
mountain' and the 'leg of the table.' And, sometimes, of course, the two 
speak, as it were, in the same language. The rough miner, or 'puddler,' the 
untrained, undeveloped 'tiger-man,' heated by a quart or two above his 
usual measure, comes home and kicks his irritating and injudicious wife to 
death. He is a murderer. And Gilles de Raiz was a murderer. But you see 
the gulf that separates the two? The 'word,' if I may so speak, is 
accidentally the same in each case, but the 'meaning' is utterly different. It 
is flagrant 'Hobson Jobson' to confuse the two, or rather, it is as if one 
supposed that Juggernaut and the Argonauts had something to do 
etymologically with one another. And no doubt the same weak likeness, or 
analogy, runs between all the 'social' sins and the real spiritual sins, and in 
some cases, perhaps, the lesser may be 'schoolmasters' to lead one on to the 
greater- from the shadow to the reality. If you are anything of a Theologian, 
you will see the importance of all this." 

"I am sorry to say," remarked Cotgrave, "that I have devoted very little of 
my time to theology. Indeed, I have often wondered on what grounds 
theologians have claimed the title of Science of Sciences for their favourite 
study; since the 'theological' books I have looked into have always seemed 
to me to be concerned with feeble and obvious pieties, or with the kings of 
Israel and Judah. I do not care to hear about those kings." 

Ambrose grinned. 

"We must try to avoid theological discussion," he said. "I perceive that you 
would be a bitter disputant. But perhaps the 'dates of the kings' have as 
much to do with theology as the hobnails of the murderous puddler with 

"Then, to return to our main subject, you think that sin is an esoteric, occult 

"Yes. It is the infernal miracle as holiness is the supernal. Now and then it 
is raised to such a pitch that we entirely fail to suspect its existence; it is 

like the note of the great pedal pipes of the organ, which is so deep that we 
cannot hear it. In other cases it may lead to the lunatic asylum, or to still 
stranger issues. But you must never confuse it with mere social misdoing. 
Remember how the Apostle, speaking of the 'other side,' distinguishes 
between 'charitable' actions and charity. And as one may give all one's 
goods to the poor, and yet lack charity; so, remember, one may avoid every 
crime and yet be a sinner" 

"Your psychology is very strange to me," said Cotgrave, "but I confess I 
like it, and I suppose that one might fairly deduce from your premisses the 
conclusion that the real sinner might very possibly strike the observer as a 
harmless personage enough?" 

"Certainly, because the true evil has nothing to do with social life or social 
laws, or if it has, only incidentally and accidentally. It is a lonely passion of 
the soul— or a passion of the lonely soul— whichever you like. If, by chance, 
we understand it, and grasp its full significance, then, indeed, it will fill us 
with horror and with awe. But this emotion is widely distinguished from the 
fear and the disgust with which we regard the ordinary criminal, since this 
latter is largely or entirely founded on the regard which we have for our 
own skins or purses. We hate a murder, because we know that we should 
hate to be murdered, or to have any one that we like murdered. So, on the 
'other side,' we venerate the saints, but we don't 'like' them as well as our 
friends. Can you persuade yourself that you would have 'enjoyed' St. Paul's 
company? Do you think that you and I would have 'got on' with Sir 

"So with the sinners, as with the saints. If you met a very evil man, and 
recognized his evil; he would, no doubt, fill you with horror and awe; but 
there is no reason why you should 'dislike' him. On the contrary, it is quite 
possible that if you could succeed in putting the sin out of your mind you 
might find the sinner capital company, and in a little while you might have 
to reason yourself back into horror. Still, how awful it is. If the roses and 
the lilies suddenly sang on this coming morning; if the furniture began to 
move in procession, as in De Maupassant's tale!" 

"I am glad you have come back to that comparison," said Cotgrave, 
"because I wanted to ask you what it is that corresponds in humanity to 
these imaginary feats of inanimate things. In a word— what is sin? You have 
given me, I know, an abstract definition, but I should like a concrete 

"I told you it was very rare," said Ambrose, who appeared willing to avoid 
the giving of a direct answer. "The materialism of the age, which has done 
a good deal to suppress sanctity, has done perhaps more to suppress evil. 
We find the earth so very comfortable that we have no inclination either for 
ascents or descents. It would seem as if the scholar who decided to 
'specialize' in Tophet, would be reduced to purely antiquarian researches. 
No paleontologist could show you a live pterodactyl." 

"And yet you, I think, have 'specialized,' and I believe that your researches 
have descended to our modern times." 

"You are really interested, I see. Well, I confess, that I have dabbled a little, 
and if you like I can show you something that bears on the very curious 
subject we have been discussing." 

Ambrose took a candle and went away to a far, dim corner of the room. 
Cotgrave saw him open a venerable bureau that stood there, and from some 
secret recess he drew out a parcel, and came back to the window where 
they had been sitting. 

Ambrose undid a wrapping of paper, and produced a green pocket-book. 

"You will take care of it?" he said. "Don't leave it lying about. It is one of 
the choicer pieces in my collection, and I should be very sorry if it were 

He fondled the faded binding. 

"I knew the girl who wrote this," he said. "When you read it, you will see 
how it illustrates the talk we have had to-night. There is a sequel, too, but I 


won't talk of that. 

"There was an odd article in one of the reviews some months ago," he 
began again, with the air of a man who changes the subject. "It was written 
by a doctor— Dr. Coryn, I think, was the name. He says that a lady, 
watching her little girl playing at the drawing-room window, suddenly saw 
the heavy sash give way and fall on the child's fingers. The lady fainted, I 
think, but at any rate the doctor was summoned, and when he had dressed 
the child's wounded and maimed fingers he was summoned to the mother. 
She was groaning with pain, and it was found that three fingers of her hand, 
corresponding with those that had been injured on the child's hand, were 
swollen and inflamed, and later, in the doctor's language, purulent 
sloughing set in." 

Ambrose still handled delicately the green volume. 

"Well, here it is," he said at last, parting with difficulty, it seemed, from his 

"You will bring it back as soon as you have read it," he said, as they went 
out into the hall, into the old garden, faint with the odour of white lilies. 

There was a broad red band in the east as Cotgrave turned to go, and from 
the high ground where he stood he saw that awful spectacle of London in a 


The morocco binding of the book was faded, and the colour had grown 
faint, but there were no stains nor bruises nor marks of usage. The book 
looked as if it had been bought "on a visit to London" some seventy or 
eighty years ago, and had somehow been forgotten and suffered to lie away 
out of sight. There was an old, delicate, lingering odour about it, such an 
odour as sometimes haunts an ancient piece of furniture for a century or 
more. The end-papers, inside the binding, were oddly decorated with 
coloured patterns and faded gold. It looked small, but the paper was fine, 


and there were many leaves, closely covered with minute, painfully formed 

I found this book (the manuscript began) in a drawer in the old bureau that 
stands on the landing. It was a very rainy day and I could not go out, so in 
the afternoon I got a candle and rummaged in the bureau. Nearly all the 
drawers were full of old dresses, but one of the small ones looked empty, 
and I found this book hidden right at the back. I wanted a book like this, so 
I took it to write in. It is full of secrets. I have a great many other books of 
secrets I have written, hidden in a safe place, and I am going to write here 
many of the old secrets and some new ones; but there are some I shall not 
put down at all. I must not write down the real names of the days and 
months which I found out a year ago, nor the way to make the Aklo letters, 
or the Chian language, or the great beautiful Circles, nor the Mao Games, 
nor the chief songs. I may write something about all these things but not the 
way to do them, for peculiar reasons. And I must not say who the Nymphs 
are, or the D™ls, or Jeelo, or what voolas mean. All these are most secret 
secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many 
wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the 
secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite 
alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper 
the word, and the Alala comes. I only do this at night in my room or in 
certain woods that I know, but I must not describe them, as they are secret 
woods. Then there are the Ceremonies, which are all of them important, but 
some are more delightful than others— 

there are the White Ceremonies, and the Green Ceremonies, and the Scarlet 
Ceremonies. The Scarlet Ceremonies are the best, but there is only one 
place where they can be performed properly, though there is a very nice 
imitation which I have done in other places. Besides these, I have the 
dances, and the Comedy, and I have done the Comedy sometimes when the 
others were looking, and they didn't understand anything about it. I was 
very little when I first knew about these things. 

When I was very small, and mother was alive, I can remember 
remembering things before that, only it has all got confused. But I 


remember when I was five or six I heard them talking about me when they 
thought I was not noticing. They were saying how queer I was a year or 
two before, and how nurse had called my mother to come and listen to me 
talking all to myself, and I was saying words that nobody could understand. 
I was speaking the Xu language, but I only remember a very few of the 
words, as it was about the little white faces that used to look at me when I 
was lying in my cradle. They used to talk to me, and I learnt their language 
and talked to them in it about some great white place where they lived, 
where the trees and the grass were all white, and there were white hills as 
high up as the moon, and a cold wind. I have often dreamed of it 
afterwards, but the faces went away when I was very little. But a wonderful 
thing happened when I was about five. My nurse was carrying me on her 
shoulder; there was a field of yellow corn, and we went through it, it was 
very hot. Then we came to a path through a wood, and a tall man came after 
us, and went with us till we came to a place where there was a deep pool, 
and it was very dark and shady. Nurse put me down on the soft moss under 
a tree, and she said: "She can't get to the pond now." So they left me there, 
and I sat quite still and watched, and out of the water and out of the wood 
came two wonderful white people, and they began to play and dance and 
sing. They were a kind of creamy white like the old ivory figure in the 
drawing-room; one was a beautiful lady with kind dark eyes, and a grave 
face, and long black hair, and she smiled such a strange sad smile at the 
other, who laughed and came to her. They played together, and danced 
round and round the pool, and they sang a song till I fell asleep. Nurse 
woke me up when she came back, and she was looking something like the 
lady had looked, so I told her all about it, and asked her why she looked 
like that. At first she cried, and then she looked very frightened, and turned 
quite pale. She put me down on the grass and stared at me, and I could see 
she was shaking all over. Then she said I had been dreaming, but I knew I 
hadn't. Then she made me promise not to say a word about it to anybody, 
and if I did I should be thrown into the black pit. I was not frightened at all, 
though nurse was, and I never forgot about it, because when I shut my eyes 
and it was quite quiet, and I was all alone, I could see them again, very faint 
and far away, but very splendid; and little bits of the song they sang came 
into my head, but I couldn't sing it. 


I was thirteen, nearly fourteen, when I had a very singular adventure, so 
strange that the day on which it happened is always called the White Day. 
My mother had been dead for more than a year, and in the morning I had 
lessons, but they let me go out for walks in the afternoon. And this 
afternoon I walked a new way, and a little brook led me into a new country, 
but I tore my frock getting through some of the difficult places, as the way 
was through many bushes, and beneath the low branches of trees, and up 
thorny thickets on the hills, and by dark woods full of creeping thorns. And 
it was a long, long way. It seemed as if I was going on for ever and ever, 
and I had to creep by a place like a tunnel where a brook must have been, 
but all the water had dried up, and the floor was rocky, and the bushes had 
grown overhead till they met, so that it was quite dark. And I went on and 
on through that dark place; it was a long, long way. And I came to a hill 
that I never saw before. I was in a dismal thicket full of black twisted 
boughs that tore me as I went through them, and I cried out because I was 
smarting all over, and then I found that I was climbing, and I went up and 
up a long way, till at last the thicket stopped and I came out crying just 
under the top of a big bare place, where there were ugly grey stones lying 
all about on the grass, and here and there a little twisted, stunted tree came 
out from under a stone, like a snake. And I went up, right to the top, a long 
way. I never saw such big ugly stones before; they came out of the earth 
some of them, and some looked as if they had been rolled to where they 
were, and they went on and on as far as I could see, a long, long way. I 
looked out from them and saw the country, but it was strange. It was winter 
time, and there were black terrible woods hanging from the hills all round; 
it was like seeing a large room hung with black curtains, and the shape of 
the trees seemed quite different from any I had ever seen before. I was 
afraid. Then beyond the woods there were other hills round in a great ring, 
but I had never seen any of them; it all looked black, and everything had a 
voor over it. It was all so still and silent, and the sky was heavy and grey 
and sad, like a wicked voorish dome in Deep Dendo. I went on into the 
dreadful rocks. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. Some were like 
horrid- grinning men; I could see their faces as if they would jump at me out 
of the stone, and catch hold of me, and drag me with them back into the 
rock, so that I should always be there. And there were other rocks that were 
like animals, creeping, horrible animals, putting out their tongues, and 


others were like words that I could not say, and others like dead people 
lying on the grass. I went on among them, though they frightened me, and 
my heart was full of wicked songs that they put into it; and I wanted to 
make faces and twist myself about in the way they did, and I went on and 
on a long way till at last I liked the rocks, and they didn't frighten me any 
more. I sang the songs I thought of; songs full of words that must not be 
spoken or written down. Then I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and 
I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the 
ground like the dead ones, and I went up to one that was grinning, and put 
my arms round him and hugged him. And so I went on and on through the 
rocks till I came to a round mound in the middle of them. It was higher than 
a mound, it was nearly as high as our house, and it was like a great basin 
turned upside down, all smooth and round and green, with one stone, like a 
post, sticking up at the top. I climbed up the sides, but they were so steep I 
had to stop or I should have rolled all the way down again, and I should 
have knocked against the stones at the bottom, and perhaps been killed. But 
I wanted to get up to the very top of the big round mound, so I lay down 
flat on my face, and took hold of the grass with my hands and drew myself 
up, bit by bit, till I was at the top Then I sat down on the stone in the 
middle, and looked all round about. I felt I had come such a long, long way, 
just as if I were a hundred miles from home, or in some other country, or in 
one of the strange places I had read about in the "Tales of the Genie" and 
the "Arabian Nights," or as if I had gone across the sea, far away, for years 
and I had found another world that nobody had ever seen or heard of 
before, or as if I had somehow flown through the sky and fallen on one of 
the stars I had read about where everything is dead and cold and grey, and 
there is no air, and the wind doesn't blow. I sat on the stone and looked all 
round and down and round about me. It was just as if I was sitting on a 
tower in the middle of a great empty town, because I could see nothing all 
around but the grey rocks on the ground. I couldn't make out their shapes 
any more, but I could see them on and on for a long way, and I looked at 
them, and they seemed as if they had been arranged into patterns, and 
shapes, and figures. I knew they couldn't be. because I had seen a lot of 
them coming right out of the earth, joined to the deep rocks below, so I 
looked again, but still I saw nothing but circles, and small circles inside big 
ones, and pyramids, and domes, and spires, and they seemed all to go round 


and round the place where I was sitting, and the more I looked, the more I 
saw great big rings of rocks, getting bigger and bigger, and I stared so long 
that it felt as if they were all moving and turning, like a great wheel, and I 
was turning, too, in the middle. I got quite dizzy and queer in the head, and 
everything began to be hazy and not clear, and I saw little sparks of blue 
light, and the stones looked as if they were springing and dancing and 
twisting as they went round and round and round. I was frightened again, 
and I cried out loud, and jumped up from the stone I was sitting on, and fell 
down. When I got up I was so glad they all looked still, and I sat down on 
the top and slid down the mound, and went on again. I danced as I went in 
the peculiar way the rocks had danced when I got giddy, and I was so glad I 
could do it quite well, and I danced and danced along, and sang 
extraordinary songs that came into my head. At last I came to the edge of 
that great flat hill, and there were no more rocks, and the way went again 
through a dark thicket in a hollow. It was just as bad as the other one I went 
through climbing up, but I didn't mind this one, because I was so glad I had 
seen those singular dances and could imitate them. I went down, creeping 
through the bushes, and a tall nettle stung me on my leg, and made me 
burn, but I didn't mind it, and I tingled with the boughs and the thorns, but I 
only laughed and sang. Then I got out of the thicket into a close valley, a 
little secret place like a dark passage that nobody ever knows of, because it 
was so narrow and deep and the woods were so thick round it. There is a 
steep bank with trees hanging over it, and there the ferns keep green all 
through the winter, when they are dead and brown upon the hill, and the 
ferns there have a sweet, rich smell like what oozes out of fir trees. There 
was a little stream of water running down this valley, so small that I could 
easily step across it. I drank the water with my hand, and it tasted like 
bright, yellow wine, and it sparkled and bubbled as it ran down over 
beautiful red and yellow and green stones, so that it seemed alive and all 
colours at once. I drank it, and I drank more with my hand, but I couldn't 
drink enough, so I lay down and bent my head and sucked the water up 
with my lips. It tasted much better, drinking it that way, and a ripple would 
come up to my mouth and give me a kiss, and I laughed, and drank again, 
and pretended there was a nymph, like the one in the old picture at home, 
who lived in the water and was kissing me. So I bent low down to the 
water, and put my lips softly to it, and whispered to the nymph that I would 


come again. I felt sure it could not be common water, I was so glad when I 
got up and went on; and I danced again and went up and up the valley, 
under hanging hills. And when I came to the top, the ground rose up in 
front of me, tall and steep as a wall, and there was nothing but the green 
wall and the sky. I thought of "for ever and for ever, world without end, 
Amen" ; and I thought I must have really found the end of the world, 
because it was like the end of everything, as if there could be nothing at all 
beyond, except the kingdom of Voor, where the light goes when it is put 
out, and the water goes when the sun takes it away. I began to think of all 
the long, long way I had journeyed, how I had found a brook and followed 
it, and followed it on, and gone through bushes and thorny thickets, and 
dark woods full of creeping thorns. Then I had crept up a tunnel under 
trees, and climbed a thicket, and seen all the grey rocks, and sat in the 
middle of them when they turned round, and then I had gone on through the 
grey rocks and come down the hill through the stinging thicket and up the 
dark valley, all a long, long way. I wondered how I should get home again, 
if I could ever find the way, and if my home was there any more, or if it 
were turned and everybody in it into grey rocks, as in the "Arabian Nights." 
So I sat down on the grass and thought what I should do next. I was tired, 
and my feet were hot with walking, and as I looked about I saw there was a 
wonderful well just under the high, steep wall of grass. All the ground 
round it was covered with bright, green, dripping moss; there was every 
kind of moss there, moss like beautiful little ferns, and like palms and fir 
trees, and it was all green as jewellery, and drops of water hung on it like 
diamonds. And in the middle was the great well, deep and shining and 
beautiful, so clear that it looked as if I could touch the red sand at the 
bottom, but it was far below. I stood by it and looked in, as if I were 
looking in a glass. At the bottom of the well, in the middle of it, the red 
grains of sand were moving and stirring all the time, and I saw how the 
water bubbled up, but at the top it was quite smooth, and full and 
brimming. It was a great well, large like a bath, and with the shining, 
glittering green moss about it, it looked like a great white jewel, with green 
jewels all round. My feet were so hot and tired that I took off my boots and 
stockings, and let my feet down into the water, and the water was soft and 
cold, and when I got up I wasn't tired any more, and I felt I must go on, 
farther and farther, and see what was on the other side of the wall. I 


climbed up it very slowly, going sideways all the time, and when I got to 
the top and looked over, I was in the queerest country I had seen, stranger 
even than the hill of the grey rocks. It looked as if earth-children had been 
playing there with their spades, as it was all hills and hollows, and castles 
and walls made of earth and covered with grass. There were two mounds 
like big beehives, round and great and solemn, and then hollow basins, and 
then a steep mounting wall like the ones I saw once by the seaside where 
the big guns and the soldiers were. I nearly fell into one of the round 
hollows, it went away from under my feet so suddenly, and I ran fast down 
the side and stood at the bottom and looked up. It was strange and solemn 
to look up. There was nothing but the grey, heavy sky and the sides of the 
hollow; everything else had gone away, and the hollow was the whole 
world, and I thought that at night it must be full of ghosts and moving 
shadows and pale things when the moon shone down to the bottom at the 
dead of the night, and the wind wailed up above. It was so strange and 
solemn and lonely, like a hollow temple of dead heathen gods. It reminded 
me of a tale my nurse had told me when I was quite little; it was the same 
nurse that took me into the wood where I saw the beautiful white people. 
And I remembered how nurse had told me the story one winter night, when 
the wind was beating the trees against the wall, and crying and moaning in 
the nursery chimney. She said there was, somewhere or other, a hollow pit, 
just like the one I was standing in, everybody was afraid to go into it or 
near it, it was such a bad place. But once upon a time there was a poor girl 
who said she would go into the hollow pit, and everybody tried to stop her, 
but she would go. And she went down into the pit and came back laughing, 
and said there was nothing there at all, except green grass and red stones, 
and white stones and yellow flowers. And soon after people saw she had 
most beautiful emerald earrings, and they asked how she got them, as she 
and her mother were quite poor. But she laughed, and said her earrings 
were not made of emeralds at all, but only of green grass. Then, one day, 
she wore on her breast the reddest ruby that any one had ever seen, and it 
was as big as a hen's egg, and glowed and sparkled like a hot burning coal 
of fire. And they asked how she got it, as she and her mother were quite 
poor. But she laughed, and said it was not a ruby at all, but only a red stone. 
Then one day she wore round her neck the loveliest necklace that any one 
had ever seen, much finer than the queen's finest, and it was made of great 


bright diamonds, hundreds of them, and they shone like all the stars on a 
night in June. So they asked her how she got it, as she and her mother were 
quite poor. But she laughed, and said they were not diamonds at all, but 
only white stones. And one day she went to the Court, and she wore on her 
head a crown of pure angel-gold, so nurse said, and it shone like the sun, 
and it was much more splendid than the crown the king was wearing 
himself, and in her ears she wore the emeralds, and the big ruby was the 
brooch on her breast, and the great diamond necklace was sparkling on her 
neck. And the king and queen thought she was some great princess from a 
long way off, and got down from their thrones and went to meet her, but 
somebody told the king and queen who she was, and that she was quite 
poor. So the king asked why she wore a gold crown, and how she got it, as 
she and her mother were so poor. And she laughed, and said it wasn't a gold 
crown at all, but only some yellow flowers she had put in her hair. And the 
king thought it was very strange, and said she should stay at the Court, and 
they would see what would happen next. And she was so lovely that 
everybody said that her eyes were greener than the emeralds, that her lips 
were redder than the ruby, that her skin was whiter than the diamonds, and 
that her hair was brighter than the golden crown. So the king's son said he 
would marry her, and the king said he might. And the bishop married them, 
and there was a great supper, and after- wards the king's son went to his 
wife's room. But just when he had his hand on the door, he saw a tall, black 
man, with a dreadful face, standing in front of the door, and a voice said- 
Venture not upon your life, 
This is mine own wedded wife. 

Then the king's son fell down on the ground in a fit. And they came and 
tried to get into the room, but they couldn't, and they hacked at the door 
with hatchets, but the wood had turned hard as iron, and at last everybody 
ran away, they were so frightened at the screaming and laughing and 
shrieking and crying that came out of the room. But next day they went in, 
and found there was nothing in the room but thick black smoke, because 
the black man had come and taken her away. And on the bed there were 
two knots of faded grass and a red stone, and some white stones, and some 


faded yellow flowers. I remembered this tale of nurse's while I was 
standing at the bottom of the deep hollow; it was so strange and solitary 
there, and I felt afraid. I could not see any stones or flowers, but I was 
afraid of bringing them away without knowing, and I thought I would do a 
charm that came into my head to keep the black man away. So I stood right 
in the very middle of the hollow, and I made sure that I had none of those 
things on me, and then I walked round the place, and touched my eyes, and 
my lips, and my hair in a peculiar manner, and whispered some queer 
words that nurse taught me to keep bad things away. Then I felt safe and 
climbed up out of the hollow, and went on through all those mounds and 
hollows and walls, till I came to the end, which was high above all the rest, 
and I could see that all the different shapes of the earth were arranged in 
patterns, something like the grey rocks, only the pattern was different. It 
was getting late, and the air was indistinct, but it looked from where I was 
standing something like two great figures of people lying on the grass. And 
I went on, and at last I found a certain wood, which is too secret to be 
described, and nobody knows of the passage into it, which I found out in a 
very curious manner, by seeing some little animal run into the wood 
through it. So I went after the animal by a very narrow dark way, under 
thorns and bushes, and it was almost dark when I came to a kind of open 
place in the middle. And there I saw the most wonderful sight I have ever 
seen, but it was only for a minute, as I ran away directly, and crept out of 
the wood by the passage I had come by, and ran and ran as fast as ever I 
could, because I was afraid, what I had seen was so wonderful and so 
strange and beautiful. But I wanted to get home and think of it, and I did 
not know what might not happen if I stayed by the wood. I was hot all over 
and trembling, and my heart was beating, and strange cries that I could not 
help came from me as I ran from the wood. I was glad that a great white 
moon came up from over a round hill and showed me the way, so I went 
back through the mounds and hollows and down the close valley, and up 
through the thicket over the place of the grey rocks, and so at last I got 
home again. My father was busy in his study, and the servants had not told 
about my not coming home, though they were frightened, and wondered 
what they ought to do, so I told them I had lost my way, but I did not let 
them find out the real way I had been. I went to bed and lay awake all 
through the night, thinking of what I had seen. When I came out of the 


narrow way, and it looked all shining, though the air was dark, it seemed so 
certain, and all the way home I was quite sure that I had seen it, and I 
wanted to be alone in my room, and be glad over it all to myself, and shut 
my eyes and pretend it was there, and do all the things I would have done if 
I had not been so afraid. But when I shut my eyes the sight would not 
come, and I began to think about my adventures all over again, and I 
remembered how dusky and queer it was at the end, and I was afraid it 
must be all a mistake, because it seemed impossible it could happen. It 
seemed like one of nurse's tales, which I didn't really believe in, though I 
was frightened at the bottom of the hollow; and the stories she told me 
when I was little came back into my head, and I wondered whether it was 
really there what I thought I had seen, or whether any of her tales could 
have happened a long time ago. It was so queer; I lay awake there in my 
room at the back of the house, and the moon was shining on the other side 
towards the river, so the bright light did not fall upon the wall. And the 
house was quite still. I had heard my father come upstairs, and just after the 
clock struck twelve, and after the house was still and empty, as if there was 
nobody alive in it. And though it was all dark and indistinct in my room, a 
pale glimmering kind of light shone in through the white blind, and once I 
got up and looked out, and there was a great black shadow of the house 
covering the garden, looking like a prison where men are hanged; and then 
beyond it was all white; and the wood shone white with black gulfs 
between the trees. It was still and clear, and there were no clouds on the 
sky. I wanted to think of what I had seen but I couldn't, and I began to think 
of all the tales that nurse had told me so long ago that I thought I had 
forgotten, but they all came back, and mixed up with the thickets and the 
grey rocks and the hollows in the earth and the secret wood, till I hardly 
knew what was new and what was old, or whether it was not all dreaming. 
And then I remembered that hot summer afternoon, so long ago, when 
nurse left me by myself in the shade, and the white people came out of the 
water and out of the wood, and played, and danced, and sang, and I began 
to fancy that nurse told me about something like it before I saw them, only 
I couldn't recollect exactly what she told me. Then I wondered whether she 
had been the white lady, as I remembered she was just as white and 
beautiful, and had the same dark eyes and black hair; and sometimes she 
smiled and looked like the lady had looked, when she was telling me some 


of her stories, beginning with "Once on a time," or "In the time of the 
fairies." But I thought she couldn't be the lady, as she seemed to have gone 
a different way into the wood, and I didn't think the man who came after us 
could be the other, or I couldn't have seen that wonderful secret in the 
secret wood. I thought of the moon: but it was afterwards when I was in the 
middle of the wild land, where the earth was made into the shape of great 
figures, and it was all walls, and mysterious hollows, and smooth round 
mounds, that I saw the great white moon come up over a round hill. I was 
wondering about all these things, till at last I got quite frightened, because I 
was afraid something had happened to me, and I remembered nurse's tale of 
the poor girl who went into the hollow pit, and was carried away at last by 
the black man. I knew I had gone into a hollow pit too, and perhaps it was 
the same, and I had done something dreadful. So I did the charm over 
again, and touched my eyes and my lips and my hair in a peculiar manner, 
and said the old words from the fairy language, so that I might be sure I had 
not been carried away. I tried again to see the secret wood, and to creep up 
the passage and see what I had seen there, but somehow I couldn't, and I 
kept on thinking of nurse's stories. There was one I remembered about a 
young man who once upon a time went hunting, and all the day he and his 
hounds hunted everywhere, and they crossed the rivers and went into all the 
woods, and went round the marshes, but they couldn't find anything at all, 
and they hunted all day till the sun sank down and began to set behind the 
mountain. And the young man was angry because he couldn't find anything, 
and he was going to turn back, when just as the sun touched the mountain, 
he saw come out of a brake in front of him a beautiful white stag. And he 
cheered to his hounds, but they whined and would not follow, and he 
cheered to his horse, but it shivered and stood stock still, and the young 
man jumped off the horse and left the hounds and began to follow the white 
stag all alone. And soon it was quite dark, and the sky was black, without a 
single star shining in it, and the stag went away into the darkness. And 
though the man had brought his gun with him he never shot at the stag, 
because he wanted to catch it, and he was afraid he would lose it in the 
night. But he never lost it once, though the sky was so black and the air was 
so dark, and the stag went on and on till the young man didn't know a bit 
where he was. And they went through enormous woods where the air was 
full of whispers and a pale, dead light came out from the rotten trunks that 


were lying on the ground, and just as the man thought he had lost the stag, 
he would see it all white and shining in front of him, and he would run fast 
to catch it, but the stag always ran faster, so he did not catch it. And they 
went through the enormous woods, and they swam across rivers, and they 
waded through black marshes where the ground bubbled, and the air was 
full of will-o'-the-wisps, and the stag fled away down into rocky narrow 
valleys, where the air was like the smell of a vault, and the man went after 
it. And they went over the great mountains and the man heard the wind 
come down from the sky, and the stag went on and the man went after. At 
last the sun rose and the young man found he was in a country that he had 
never seen before; it was a beautiful valley with a bright stream running 
through it, and a great, big round hill in the middle. And the stag went 
down the valley, towards the hill, and it seemed to be getting tired and went 
slower and slower, and though the man was tired, too, he began to run 
faster, and he was sure he would catch the stag at last. But just as they got 
to the bottom of the hill, and the man stretched out his hand to catch the 
stag, it vanished into the earth, and the man began to cry; he was so sorry 
that he had lost it after all his long hunting. But as he was crying he saw 
there was a door in the hill, just in front of him, and he went in, and it was 
quite dark, but he went on, as he thought he would find the white stag. And 
all of a sudden it got light, and there was the sky, and the sun shining, and 
birds singing in the trees, and there was a beautiful fountain. And by the 
fountain a lovely lady was sitting, who was the queen of the fairies, and she 
told the man that she had changed herself into a stag to bring him there 
because she loved him so much. Then she brought out a great gold cup, 
covered with jewels, from her fairy palace, and she offered him wine in the 
cup to drink. And he drank, and the more he drank the more he longed to 
drink, because the wine was enchanted. So he kissed the lovely lady, and 
she became his wife, and he stayed all that day and all that night in the hill 
where she lived, and when he woke he found he was lying on the ground, 
close to where he had seen the stag first, and his horse was there and his 
hounds were there waiting, and he looked up, and the sun sank behind the 
mountain. And he went home and lived a long time, but he would never 
kiss any other lady because he had kissed the queen of the fairies, and he 
would never drink common wine any more, because he had drunk 
enchanted wine. And sometimes nurse told me tales that she had heard 


from her great-grandmother, who was very old, and lived in a cottage on 
the mountain all alone, and most of these tales were about a hill where 
people used to meet at night long ago, and they used to play all sorts of 
strange games and do queer things that nurse told me of, but I couldn't 
understand, and now, she said, everybody but her great-grandmother had 
forgotten all about it, and nobody knew where the hill was, not even her 
great-grandmother. But she told me one very strange story about the hill, 
and I trembled when I remembered it. She said that people always went 
there in summer, when it was very hot, and they had to dance a good deal. 
It would be all dark at first, and there were trees there, which made it much 
darker, and people would come, one by one, from all directions, by a secret 
path which nobody else knew, and two persons would keep the gate, and 
every one as they came up had to give a very curious sign, which nurse 
showed me as well as she could, but she said she couldn't show me 
properly. And all kinds of people would come; there would be gentle folks 
and village folks, and some old people and boys and girls, and quite small 
children, who sat and watched. And it would all be dark as they came in, 
except in one corner where some one was burning something that smelt 
strong and sweet, and made them laugh, and there one would see a glaring 
of coals, and the smoke mounting up red. So they would all come in, and 
when the last had come there was no door any more, so that no one else 
could get in, even if they knew there was anything beyond. And once a 
gentleman who was a stranger and had ridden a long way, lost his path at 
night, and his horse took him into the very middle of the wild country, 
where everything was up- side down, and there were dreadful marshes and 
great stones everywhere, and holes underfoot, and the trees looked like 
gibbet-posts, because they had great black arms that stretched out across 
the way. And this strange gentleman was very frightened, and his horse 
began to shiver all over, and at last it stopped and wouldn't go any farther, 
and the gentleman got down and tried to lead the horse, but it wouldn't 
move, and it was all covered with a sweat, like death. So the gentleman 
went on all alone, going farther and farther into the wild country, till at last 
he came to a dark place, where he heard shouting and singing and crying, 
like nothing he had ever heard before. It all sounded quite close to him, but 
he couldn't get in, and so he began to call, and while he was calling, 
something came behind him, and in a minute his mouth and arms and legs 


were all bound up, and he fell into a swoon. And when he came to himself, 
he was lying by the roadside, just where he had first lost his way, under a 
blasted oak with a black trunk, and his horse was tied beside him. So he 
rode on to the town and told the people there what had happened, and some 
of them were amazed; but others knew. So when once everybody had come, 
there was no door at all for anybody else to pass in by. And when they were 
all inside, round in a ring, touching each other, some one began to sing in 
the darkness, and some one else would make a noise like thunder with a 
thing they had on purpose, and on still nights people would hear the 
thundering noise far, far away beyond the wild land, and some of them, 
who thought they knew what it was, used to make a sign on their breasts 
when they woke up in their beds at dead of night and heard that terrible 
deep noise, like thunder on the mountains. And the noise and the singing 
would go on and on for a long time, and the people who were in a ring 
swayed a little to and fro; and the song was in an old, old language that 
nobody knows now, and the tune was queer. Nurse said her 
great-grandmother had known some one who remembered a little of it, 
when she was quite a little girl, and nurse tried to sing some of it to me, and 
it was so strange a tune that I turned all cold and my flesh crept as if I had 
put my hand on something dead. Sometimes it was a man that sang and 
some- times it was a woman, and sometimes the one who sang it did it so 
well that two or three of the people who were there fell to the ground 
shrieking and tearing with their hands. The singing went on, and the people 
in the ring kept swaying to and fro for a long time, and at last the moon 
would rise over a place they called the Tole Deol, and came up and showed 
them swinging and swaying from side to side, with the sweet thick smoke 
curling up from the burning coals, and floating in circles all around them. 
Then they had their supper. A boy and a girl brought it to them; the boy 
carried a great cup of wine, and the girl carried a cake of bread, and they 
passed the bread and the wine round and round, but they tasted quite 
different from common bread and common wine, and changed everybody 
that tasted them. Then they all rose up and danced, and secret things were 
brought out of some hiding place, and they played extraordinary games, 
and danced round and round and round in the moonlight, and sometimes 
people would suddenly disappear and never be heard of afterwards, and 
nobody knew what had happened to them. And they drank more of that 


curious wine, and they made images and worshipped them, and nurse 
showed me how the images were made one day when we were out for a 
walk, and we passed by a place where there was a lot of wet clay. So nurse 
asked me if I would like to know what those things were like that they 
made on the hill, and I said yes. Then she asked me if I would promise 
never to tell a living soul a word about it, and if I did I was to be thrown 
into the black pit with the dead people, and I said I wouldn't tell anybody, 
and she said the same thing again and again, and I promised. So she took 
my wooden spade and dug a big lump of clay and put it in my tin bucket, 
and told me to say if any one met us that I was going to make pies when I 
went home. Then we went on a little way till we came to a little brake 
growing right down into the road, and nurse stopped, and looked up the 
road and down it, and then peeped through the hedge into the field on the 
other side, and then she said, "Quick!" and we ran into the brake, and crept 
in and out among the bushes till we had gone a good way from the road. 
Then we sat down under a bush, and I wanted so much to know what nurse 
was going to make with the clay, but before she would begin she made me 
promise again not to say a word about it, and she went again and peeped 
through the bushes on every side, though the lane was so small and deep 
that hardly anybody ever went there. So we sat down, and nurse took the 
clay out of the bucket, and began to knead it with her hands, and do queer 
things with it, and turn it about. And she hid it under a big dock-leaf for a 
minute or two and then she brought it out again, and then she stood up and 
sat down, and walked round the clay in a peculiar manner, and all the time 
she was softly singing a sort of rhyme, and her face got very red. Then she 
sat down again, and took the clay in her hands and began to shape it into a 
doll, but not like the dolls I have at home, and she made the queerest doll I 
had ever seen, all out of the wet clay, and hid it under a bush to get dry and 
hard, and all the time she was making it she was singing these rhymes to 
herself, and her face got redder and redder. So we left the doll there, hidden 
away in the bushes where nobody would ever find it. And a few days later 
we went the same walk, and when we came to that narrow, dark part of the 
lane where the brake runs down to the bank, nurse made me promise all 
over again, and she looked about, just as she had done before, and we crept 
into the bushes till we got to the green place where the little clay man was 
hidden. I remember it all so well, though I was only eight, and it is eight 


years ago now as I am writing it down, but the sky was a deep violet blue, 
and in the middle of the brake where we were sitting there was a great elder 
tree covered with blossoms, and on the other side there was a clump of 
meadowsweet, and when I think of that day the smell of the meadowsweet 
and elder blossom seems to fill the room, and if I shut my eyes I can see the 
glaring blue sky, with little clouds very white floating across it, and nurse 
who went away long ago sitting opposite me and looking like the beautiful 
white lady in the wood. So we sat down and nurse took out the clay doll 
from the secret place where she had hidden it, and she said we must "pay 
our respects," and she would show me what to do, and I must watch her all 
the time. So she did all sorts of queer things with the little clay man, and I 
noticed she was all streaming with perspiration, though we had walked so 
slowly, and then she told me to "pay my respects," and I did everything she 
did because I liked her, and it was such an odd game. And she said that if 
one loved very much, the clay man was very good, if one did certain things 
with it, and if one hated very much, it was just as good, only one had to do 
different things, and we played with it a long time, and pretended all sorts 
of things. Nurse said her great-grandmother had told her all about these 
images, but what we did was no harm at all, only a game. But she told me a 
story about these images that frightened me very much, and that was what I 
remembered that night when I was lying awake in my room in the pale, 
empty darkness, thinking of what I had seen and the secret wood. Nurse 
said there was once a young lady of the high gentry, who lived in a great 
castle. And she was so beautiful that all the gentlemen wanted to marry her, 
because she was the loveliest lady that anybody had ever seen, and she was 
kind to everybody, and everybody thought she was very good. But though 
she was polite to all the gentlemen who wished to marry her, she put them 
off, and said she couldn't make up her mind, and she wasn't sure she wanted 
to marry anybody at all. And her father, who was a very great lord, was 
angry, though he was so fond of her, and he asked her why she wouldn't 
choose a bachelor out of all the handsome young men who came to the 
castle. But she only said she didn't love any of them very much, and she 
must wait, and if they pestered her, she said she would go and be a nun in a 
nunnery. So all the gentlemen said they would go away and wait for a year 
and a day, and when a year and a day were gone, they would come back 
again and ask her to say which one she would marry. So the day was 


appointed and they all went away; and the lady had promised that in a year 
and a day it would be her wedding day with one of them. But the truth was, 
that she was the queen of the people who danced on the hill on summer 
nights, and on the proper nights she would lock the door of her room, and 
she and her maid would steal out of the castle by a secret passage that only 
they knew of, and go away up to the hill in the wild land. And she knew 
more of the secret things than any one else, and more than any one knew 
before or after, because she would not tell anybody the most secret secrets. 
She knew how to do all the awful things, how to destroy young men, and 
how to put a curse on people, and other things that I could not understand. 
And her real name was the Lady Avelin, but the dancing people called her 
Cassap, which meant somebody very wise, in the old language. And she 
was whiter than any of them and taller, and her eyes shone in the dark like 
burning rubies; and she could sing songs that none of the others could sing, 
and when she sang they all fell down on their faces and worshipped her. 
And she could do what they called shib-show, which was a very wonderful 
enchantment. She would tell the great lord, her father, that she wanted to go 
into the woods to gather flowers, so he let her go, and she and her maid 
went into the woods where nobody came, and the maid would keep watch, 
wen the lady would lie down under the trees and begin to sing a particular 
song, and she stretched out her arms, and from every part of the wood great 
serpents would come, hissing and gliding in and out among the trees, and 
shooting out their forked tongues as they crawled up to the lady. And they 
all came to her, and twisted round her, round her body, and her arms, and 
her neck, till she was covered with writhing serpents, and there was only 
her head to be seen. And she whispered to them, and she sang to them, and 
they writhed round and round, faster and faster, till she told them to go. 
And they all went away directly, back to their holes, and on the lady's 
breast there would be a most curious, beautiful stone, shaped something 
like an egg, and coloured dark blue and yellow, and red, and green, marked 
like a serpent's scales. It was called a glame stone, and with it one could do 
all sorts of wonderful things, and nurse said her great-grandmother had 
seen a glame stone with her own eyes, and it was for all the world shiny 
and scaly like a snake. And the lady could do a lot of other things as well, 
but she was quite fixed that she would not be married. And there were a 
great many gentlemen who wanted to marry her, but there were five of 


them who were chief, and their names were Sir Simon, Sir John, Sir Oliver, 
Sir Richard, and Sir Rowland. All the others believed she spoke the truth, 
and that she would choose one of them to be her man when a year and a 
day was done; it was only Sir Simon, who was very crafty, who thought she 
was deceiving them all, and he vowed he would watch and try if he could 
find out anything. And though he was very wise he was very young, and he 
had a smooth, soft face like a girl's, and he pre- tended, as the rest did, that 
he would not come to the castle for a year and a day, and he said he was 
going away beyond the sea to foreign parts. But he really only went a very 
little way, and came back dressed like a servant girl, and so he got a place 
in the castle to wash the dishes. And he waited and watched, and he 
listened and said nothing, and he hid in dark places, and woke up at night 
and looked out, and he heard things and he saw things that he thought were 
very strange. And he was so sly that he told the girl that waited on the lady 
that he was really a young man, and that he had dressed up as a girl because 
he loved her so very much and wanted to be in the same house with her, 
and the girl was so pleased that she told him many things, and he was more 
than ever certain that the Lady Avelin was deceiving him and the others. 
And he was so clever, and told the servant so many lies, that one night he 
managed to hide in the Lady Avelin's room behind the curtains. And he 
stayed quite still and never moved, and at last the lady came. And she bent 
down under the bed, and raised up a stone, and there was a hollow place 
underneath, and out of it she took a waxen image, just like the clay one that 
I and nurse had made in the brake. And all the time her eyes were burning 
like rubies. And she took the little wax doll up in her arms and held it to her 
breast, and she whispered and she murmured, and she took it up and she 
laid it down again, and she held it high, and she held it low, and she laid it 
down again. And she said, "Happy is he that begat the bishop, that ordered 
the clerk, that married the man, that had the wife, that fashioned the hive, 
that harboured the bee, that gathered the wax that my own true love was 
made of." And she brought out of an aumbry a great golden bowl, and she 
brought out of a closet a great jar of wine, and she poured some of the wine 
into the bowl, and she laid her mannikin very gently in the wine, and 
washed it in the wine all over. Then she went to a cupboard and took a 
small round cake and laid it on the image's mouth, and then she bore it 
softly and covered it up. And Sir Simon, who was watching all the time, 


though he was terribly frightened, saw the lady bend down and stretch out 
her arms and whisper and sing, and then Sir Simon saw beside her a 
handsome young man, who kissed her on the lips. And they drank wine out 
of the golden bowl together, and they ate the cake together. But when the 
sun rose there was only the little wax doll, and the lady hid it again under 
the bed in the hollow place. So Sir Simon knew quite well what the lady 
was, and he waited and he watched, till the time she had said was nearly 
over, and in a week the year and a day would be done. And one night, when 
he was watching behind the curtains in her room, he saw her making more 
wax dolls. And she made five, and hid them away. And the next night she 
took one out, and held it up, and filled the golden bowl with water, and 
took the doll by the neck and held it under the water. Then she said- 
Sir Dickon, Sir Dickon, your day is done, 
You shall be drowned in the water wan. 

And the next day news came to the castle that Sir Richard had been 
drowned at the ford. And at night she took another doll and tied a violet 
cord round its neck and hung it up on a nail. Then she said- 
Sir Rowland, your life has ended its span, 
High on a tree I see you hang. 

And the next day news came to the castle that Sir Rowland had been 
hanged by robbers in the wood. And at night she took another doll, and 
drove her bodkin right into its heart. Then she said- 
Sir Noll, Sir Noll, so cease your life, 
Your heart piercd with the knife. 

And the next day news came to the castle that Sir Oliver had fought in a 
tavern, and a stranger had stabbed him to the heart. And at night she took 
another doll, and held it to a fire of charcoal till it was melted. Then she 


Sir John, return, and turn to clay, 
In fire of fever you waste away. 

And the next day news came to the castle that Sir John had died in a 
burning fever. So then Sir Simon went out of the castle and mounted his 
horse and rode away to the bishop and told him everything. And the bishop 
sent his men, and they took the Lady Avelin, and everything she had done 
was found out. So on the day after the year and a day, when she was to 
have been married, they carried her through the town in her smock, and 
they tied her to a great stake in the market-place, and burned her alive 
before the bishop with her wax image hung round her neck. And people 
said the wax man screamed in the burning of the flames. And I thought of 
this story again and again as I was lying awake in my bed, and I seemed to 
see the Lady Avelin in the market-place, with the yellow flames eating up 
her beautiful white body. And I thought of it so much that I seemed to get 
into the story myself, and I fancied I was the lady, and that they were 
coming to take me to be burnt with fire, with all the people in the town 
looking at me. And I wondered whether she cared, after all the strange 
things she had done, and whether it hurt very much to be burned at the 
stake. I tried again and again to forget nurse's stories, and to remember the 
secret I had seen that afternoon, and what was in the secret wood, but I 
could only see the dark and a glimmering in the dark, and then it went 
away, and I only saw myself running, and then a great moon came up white 
over a dark round hill. Then all the old stories came back again, and the 
queer rhymes that nurse used to sing to me; and there was one beginning 
"Halsy cumsy Helen musty," that she used to sing very softly when she 
wanted me to go to sleep. And I began to sing it to myself inside of my 
head, and I went to sleep. 

The next morning I was very tired and sleepy, and could hardly do my 
lessons, and I was very glad when they were over and I had had my dinner, 
as I wanted to go out and be alone. It was a warm day, and I went to a nice 
turfy hill by the river, and sat down on my mother's old shawl that I had 


brought with me on purpose. The sky was grey, like the day before, but 
there was a kind of white gleam behind it, and from where I was sitting I 
could look down on the town, and b it was all still and quiet and white, like 
a picture. I remembered that it was on that hill that nurse taught me to play 
an old game called "Troy Town," in which one had to dance, and wind in 
and out on a pattern in the grass, and then when one had danced and turned 
long enough the other person asks you questions, and you can't help 
answering whether you want to or not, and whatever you are told to do you 
feel you have to do it. Nurse said there used to be a lot of games like that 
that some people knew of, and there was one by which people could be 
turned into anything you liked and an old man her great- grandmother had 
seen had known a girl who had been turned into a large snake. And there 
was another very ancient game of dancing and winding and turning, by 
which you could take a person out of himself and hide him away as long as 
you liked, and his body went walking about quite empty, without any sense 
in it. But I came to that hill because I wanted to think of what had happened 
the day before, and of the secret of the wood. From the place where I was 
sitting I could see beyond the town, into the opening I had found, where a 
little brook had led me into an unknown country. And I pretended I was 
following the brook over again, and I went all the way in my mind, and at 
last I found the wood, and crept into it under the bushes, and then in the 
dusk I saw something that made me feel as if I were filled with fire, as if I 
wanted to dance and sing and fly up into the air, because I was changed and 
wonderful. But what I saw was not changed at all, and had not grown old, 
and I wondered again and again how such things could happen, and 
whether nurse's stories were really true, because in the daytime in the open 
air everything seemed quite different from what it was at night, when I was 
frightened, and thought I was to be burned alive. I once told my father one 
of her little tales, which was about a ghost, and asked him if it was true, and 
he told me it was not true at all, and that only common, ignorant people 
believed in such rubbish. He was very angry with nurse for telling me the 
story, and scolded her, and after that I promised her I would never whisper 
a word of what she told me, and if I did I should be bitten by the great black 
snake that lived in the pool in the wood. And all alone on the hill I 
wondered what was true. I had seen something very amazing and very 
lovely, and I knew a story, and if I had really seen it, and not made it up out 


of the dark, and the black bough, and the bright shining that was mounting 
up to the sky from over the great round hill, but had really seen it in truth, 
then there were all kinds of wonderful and lovely and terrible things to 
think of, so I longed and trembled, and I burned and got cold. And I looked 
down on the town, so quiet and still, like a little white picture, and I thought 
over and over if it could be true. I was a long time before I could make up 
my mind to anything; there was such a strange fluttering at my heart that 
seemed to whisper to me all the time that I had not made it up out of my 
head, and yet it seemed quite impossible, and I knew my father and 
everybody would say it was dreadful rubbish. I never dreamed of telling 
him or anybody else a word about it, because I knew it would be of no use, 
and I should only get laughed at or scolded, so for a long time I was very 
quiet, and went about thinking and wondering; and at night I used to dream 
of amazing things, and sometimes I woke up in the early morning and held 
out my arms with a cry. And I was frightened, too, because there were 
dangers, and some awful thing would happen to me, unless I took great 
care, if the story were true. These old tales were always in my head, night 
and morning, and I went over them and told them to myself over and over 
again, and went for walks in the places where nurse had told them to me; 
and when I sat in the nursery by the fire in the evenings I used to fancy 
nurse was sitting in the other chair, and telling me some wonderful story in 
a low voice, for fear anybody should be listening. But she used to like best 
to tell me about things when we were right out in the country, far from the 
house, because she said she was telling me such secrets, and walls have 
ears. And if it was something more than ever secret, we had to hide in 
brakes or woods; and I used to think it was such fun creeping along a 
hedge, and going very softly, and then we would get behind the bushes or 
run into the wood all of a sudden, when we were sure that none was 
watching us; so we knew that we had our secrets quite all to ourselves, and 
nobody else at all knew anything about them. Now and then, when we had 
hidden ourselves as I have described, she used to show me all sorts of odd 
things. One day, I remember, we were in a hazel brake, over-looking the 
brook, and we were so snug and warm, as though it was April; the sun was 
quite hot, and the leaves were just coming out. Nurse said she would show 
me something funny that would make me laugh, and then she showed me, 
as she said, how one could turn a whole house upside down, without 


anybody being able to find out, and the pots and pans would jump about, 
and the china would be broken, and the chairs would tumble over of 
themselves. I tried it one day in the kitchen, and I found I could do it quite 
well, and a whole row of plates on the dresser fell off it, and cook's little 
work-table tilted up and turned right over "before her eyes," as she said, but 
she was so frightened and turned so white that I didn't do it again, as I liked 
her. And afterwards, in the hazel copse, when she had shown me how to 
make things tumble about, she showed me how to make rapping noises, and 
I learnt how to do that, too. Then she taught me rhymes to say on certain 
occasions, and peculiar marks to make on other occasions, and other things 
that her great-grandmother had taught her when she was a little girl herself. 
And these were all the things I was thinking about in those days after the 
strange walk when I thought I had seen a great secret, and I wished nurse 
were there for me to ask her about it, but she had gone away more than two 
years before, and nobody seemed to know what had become of her, or 
where she had gone. But I shall always remember those days if I live to be 
quite old, because all the time I felt so strange, wondering and doubting, 
and feeling quite sure at one time, and making up my mind, and then I 
would feel quite sure that such things couldn't happen really, and it began 
all over again. But I took great care not to do certain things that might be 
very dangerous. So I waited and wondered for a long time, and though I 
was not sure at all, I never dared to try to find out. But one day I became 
sure that all that nurse said was quite true, and I was all alone when I found 
it out. I trembled all over with joy and terror, and as fast as I could I ran 
into one of the old brakes where we used to go-it was the one by the lane, 
where nurse made the little clay man-and I ran into it, and I crept into it; 
and when I came to the place where the elder was, I covered up my face 
with my hands and lay down flat on the grass, and I stayed there for two 
hours without moving, whispering to myself delicious, terrible things, and 
saying some words over and over again. It was all true and wonderful and 
splendid, and when I remembered the story I knew and thought of what I 
had really seen, I got hot and I got cold, and the air seemed full of scent, 
and flowers, and singing. And first I wanted to make a little clay man, like 
the one nurse had made so long ago, and I had to invent plans and 
stratagems, and to look about, and to think of things beforehand, because 
nobody must dream of anything that I was doing or going to do, and I was 


too old to carry clay about in a tin bucket. At last I thought of a plan, and I 
brought the wet clay to the brake, and did everything that nurse had done, 
only I made a much finer image than the one she had made; and when it 
was finished I did everything that I could imagine and much more than she 
did, because it was the likeness of something far better. And a few days 
later, when I had done my lessons early, I went for the second time by the 
way of the little brook that had led me into a strange country. And I 
followed the brook, and went through the bushes, and beneath the low 
branches of trees, and up thorny thickets on the hill, and by dark woods full 
of creeping thorns, a long, long way. Then I crept through the dark tunnel 
where the brook had been and the ground was stony, till at last I came to 
the thicket that climbed up the hill, and though the leaves were coming out 
upon the trees, everything looked almost as black as it was on the first day 
that I went there. And the thicket was just the same, and I went up slowly 
till I came out on the big bare hill, and began to walk among the wonderful 
rocks. I saw the terrible voor again on everything, for though the sky was 
brighter, the ring of wild hills all around was still dark, and the hanging 
woods looked dark and dreadful, and the strange rocks were as grey as 
ever; and when I looked down on them from the great mound, sitting on the 
stone, I saw all their amazing circles and rounds within rounds, and I had to 
sit quite still and watch them as they began to turn about me, and each 
stone danced in its place, and they seemed to go round and round in a great 
whirl, as if one were in the middle of all the stars and heard them rushing 
through the air. So I went down among the rocks to dance with them and to 
sing extraordinary songs; and I went down through the other thicket, and 
drank from the bright stream in the close and secret valley, putting my lips 
down to the bubbling water; and then I went on till I came to the deep, 
brimming well among the glittering moss, and I sat down. I looked before 
me into the secret darkness of the valley, and behind me was the great high 
wall of grass, and all around me there were the hanging woods that made 
the valley such a secret place. I knew there was nobody here at all besides 
myself, and that no one could see me. So I took off my boots and stockings, 
and let my feet down into the water, saying the words that I knew. And it 
was not cold at all, as I expected, but warm and very pleasant, and when 
my feet were in it I felt as if they were in silk, or as if the nymph were 
kissing them. So when I had done, I said the other words and made the 


signs, and then I dried my feet with a towel I had brought on purpose, and 
put on my stockings and boots. Then I climbed up the steep wall, and went 
into the place where there are the hollows, and the two beautiful mounds, 
and the round ridges of land, and all the strange shapes. I did not go down 
into the hollow this time, but I turned at the end, and made out the figures 
quite plainly, as it was lighter, and I had remembered the story I had quite 
forgotten before, and in the story the two figures are called Adam and Eve, 
and only those who know the story understand what they mean. So I went 
on and on till I came to the secret wood which must not be described, and I 
crept into it by the way I had found. And when I had gone about halfway I 
stopped, and turned round, and got ready, and I bound the handkerchief 
tightly round my eyes, and made quite sure that I could not see at all, not a 
twig, nor the end of a leaf, nor the light of the sky, as it was an old red silk 
handkerchief with large yellow spots, that went round twice and covered 
my eyes, so that I could see nothing. Then I began to go on, step by step, 
very slowly. My heart beat faster and faster, and something rose in my 
throat that choked me and made me want to cry out, but I shut my lips, and 
went on. Boughs caught in my hair as I went, and great thorns tore me; but 
I went on to the end of the path. Then I stopped, and held out my arms and 
bowed, and I went round the first time, feeling with my hands, and there 
was nothing. I went round the second time, feeling with my hands, and 
there was nothing. Then I went round the third time, feeling with my hands, 
and the story was all true, and I wished that the years were gone by, and 
that I had not so long a time to wait before I was happy for ever and ever. 

Nurse must have been a prophet like those we read of in the Bible. 
Everything that she said began to come true, and since then other things 
that she told me of have happened. That was how I came to know that her 
stories were true and that I had not made up the secret myself out of my 
own head. But there was another thing that happened that day. I went a 
second time to the secret place. It was at the deep brimming well, and when 
I was standing on the moss I bent over and looked in, and then I knew who 
the white lady was that I had seen come out of the water in the wood long 
ago when I was quite little. And I trembled all over, because that told me 
other things. Then I remembered how sometime after I had seen the white 
people in the wood, nurse asked me more about them, and I told her all 


over again, and she listened, and said nothing for a long, long time, and at 
last she said, "You will see her again." So I understood what had happened 
and what was to happen. And I understood about the nymphs; how I might 
meet them in all kinds of places, and they would always help me, and I 
must always look for them, and find them in all sorts of strange shapes and 
appearances. And without the nymphs I could never have found the secret, 
and without them none of the other things could happen. Nurse had told me 
all about them long ago, but she called them by another name, and I did not 
know what she meant, or what her tales of them were about, only that they 
were very queer. And there were two kinds, the bright and the dark, and 
both were very lovely and very wonderful, and some people saw only one 
kind, and some only the other, but some saw them both. But usually the 
dark appeared first, and the bright ones came afterwards, and there were 
extraordinary tales about them. It was a day or two after I had come home 
from the secret place that I first really knew the nymphs. Nurse had shown 
me how to call them, and I had tried, but I did not know what she meant, 
and so I thought it was all nonsense. But I made up my mind I would try 
again, so I went to the wood where the pool was, where I saw the white 
people, and I tried again. The dark nymph, Alanna, came, and she turned 
the pool of water into a pool of fire. . . . 


"That's a very queer story," said Cotgrave, handing back the green book to 
the recluse, Ambrose. "I see the drift of a good deal, but there are many 
things that I do not grasp at all. On the last page, for example, what does 
she mean by 'nymphs'?" 

"Well, I think there are references throughout the manuscript to certain 
'processes' which have been handed down by tradition from age to age. 
Some of these processes are just beginning to come within the purview of 
science, which has arrived at them— or rather at the steps which lead to 
them— by quite different paths. I have interpreted the reference to 'nymphs' 
as a reference to one of these processes." 

"And you believe that there are such things?" 


"Oh, I think so. Yes, I believe I could give you convincing evidence on that 
point. I am afraid you have neglected the study of alchemy? It is a pity, for 
the symbolism, at all events, is very beautiful, and moreover if you were 
acquainted with certain books on the subject, I could recall to your mind 
phrases which might explain a good deal in the manuscript that you have 
been reading." 

"Yes; but I want to know whether you seriously think that there is any 
foundation of fact beneath these fancies. Is it not all a department of poetry; 
a curious dream with which man has indulged himself?" 

"I can only say that it is no doubt better for the great mass of people to 
dismiss it all as a dream. But if you ask my veritable belief— that goes quite 
the other way. No; I should not say belief, but rather knowledge. I may tell 
you that I have known cases in which men have stumbled quite by accident 
on certain of these 'processes,' and have been astonished by wholly 
unexpected results. In the cases I am thinking of there could have been no 
possibility of 'suggestion' or sub-conscious action of any kind. One might 
as well suppose a schoolboy 'suggesting' the existence of &Aelig;schylus to 
himself, while he plods mechanically through the declensions. 

"But you have noticed the obscurity," Ambrose went on, "and in this 
particular case it must have been dictated by instinct, since the writer never 
thought that her manuscripts would fall into other hands. But the practice is 
universal, and for most excellent reasons. Powerful and sovereign 
medicines, which are, of necessity, virulent poisons also, are kept in a 
locked cabinet. The child may find the key by chance, and drink herself 
dead; but in most cases the search is educational, and the phials contain 
precious elixirs for him who has patiently fashioned the key for himself." 

"You do not care to go into details?" 

"No, frankly, I do not. No, you must remain unconvinced. But you saw how 
the manuscript illustrates the talk we had last week?" 

"Is this girl still alive?" 


"No. I was one of those who found her. I knew the father well; he was a 
lawyer, and had always left her very much to herself. He thought of nothing 
but deeds and leases, and the news came to him as an awful surprise. She 
was missing one morning; I suppose it was about a year after she had 
written what you have read. The servants were called, and they told things, 
and put the only natural interpretation on them— a perfectly erroneous one. 

"They discovered that green book somewhere in her room, and I found her 
in the place that she described with so much dread, lying on the ground 
before the image." 

"It was an image?" 

"Yes, it was hidden by the thorns and the thick undergrowth that had 
surrounded it. It was a wild, lonely country; but you know what it was like 
by her description, though of course you will understand that the colours 
have been heightened. A child's imagination always makes the heights 
higher and the depths deeper than they really are; and she had, 
unfortunately for herself, something more than imagination. One might say, 
perhaps, that the picture in her mind which she succeeded in a measure in 
putting into words, was the scene as it would have appeared to an 
imaginative artist. But it is a strange, desolate land." 

"And she was dead?" 

"Yes. She had poisoned herself-in time. No; there was not a word to be 
said against her in the ordinary sense. You may recollect a story I told you 
the other night about a lady who saw her child's fingers crushed by a 

"And what was this statue?" 

"Well, it was of Roman workmanship, of a stone that with the centuries had 
not blackened, but had become white and luminous. The thicket had grown 
up about it and concealed it, and in the Middle Ages the followers of a very 
old tradition had known how to use it for their own purposes. In fact it had 


been incorporated into the monstrous mythology of the Sabbath. You will 
have noted that those to whom a sight of that shining whiteness had been 
vouchsafed by chance, or rather, perhaps, by apparent chance, were 
required to blindfold themselves on their second approach. That is very 

"And is it there still?" 

"I sent for tools, and we hammered it into dust and fragments." 

"The persistence of tradition never surprises me," Ambrose went on after a 
pause. "I could name many an English parish where such traditions as that 
girl had listened to in her childhood are still existent in occult but unabated 
vigour. No, for me, it is the 'story' not the 'sequel,' which is strange and 
awful, for I have always believed that wonder is of the soul." 

2 RTEXTR*ch 

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